My Moment Of True Happiness In A Most Surprising Place


Happiness. It’s that ultimate feeling we all strive for in life. To wake up in the morning and have no worries about the day ahead. To live in the biggest house in the street, drive the fastest car, or get that promotion at work you know all your colleagues have been fighting over.

For others it could be sacrificing success to start a family, or simply an unachievable light in the distance that seems so far away.

Whatever form it takes, happiness is like that utopia we all strive for. Yet for most of us, we don’t even know where to start – or what it looks like.

For someone like my age, I guess it’s the reason we go out shopping for new shoes on pay day, or put up with the monotonous 9 to 5 job just to down a few drinks and dance on the weekend – or save for ten months of the year just for one week of sun in an exotic country. We want to be happy and we think that’s how we achieve it.

Well, I learned something today. That theory? It’s complete rubbish. Yeah sure, any mate in Leamington knows how much I used to love downing those £1 vodbulls at Smack – it’s a nightclub, Grandma! – on a Tuesday before getting sweaty on the dancefloor. We all did. And it made life fun.

But what I’m talking about is true happiness. Finding that moment when you feel so content, so complete with your situation, there isn’t a single thing in the world that could distract you from that feeling.

I didn’t find my moment of true happiness in a faraway land or place I’ve dreamed of visiting – or in Smack, surprisingly. No, I found it in a hospital ward. And that’s why I had to write something tonight – while that feeling is still fresh in my mind. To help show – if it did need showing, I don’t know – that happiness can be found anywhere, in any situation. No matter how hard or desperate any situation seems, there is always room for happiness.

Let me get to the crux of what happened. Today is mine and my fiancée Gemma’s nine-year anniversary. We’re engaged but this one was for actually for the first time we met – at a party she had put on and I had gate crashed – where I guess we were just looking for ‘that happiness’. I was a few weeks away from heading to university – not ideal timing to meet the love of your life but I didn’t complain – and she was celebrating finishing school.

Normally, we’d be enjoying our anniversary like anybody else. Going out for a nice meal at a posh restaurant or spending a day out at a fancy venue. But here I am in hospital.

Today was a good day. I guess happiness can be found in any situation.

Today was a good day. I guess happiness can be found in any situation.

Last week’s spinal surgery went well – that’s the first thing to say – and surgeons removed more of the tumour then they first thought they would. Their confidence in me making a full recovery is remarkable and it gives me determination, but that confidence is only matched in the more pessimistic tones of the physios who have actually seen my legs in action.

As one of them put it today: “You are essentially learning to walk again.” And just think about that. Learning to walk. It’s a skill so easy that we did it during a part of our lives we don’t even realise existed. Well we do, but only for the thousands of photo albums that mums like to keep hidden away in bedroom cupboards. But that’s what I face. Essentially it’s a battle between me and my one-year-old self. I reckon I’ve got the edge – just.

However, what it all means right now is that I’m still bed bound for the vast majority of the day. I haven’t had many visitors because things have undoubtedly been tough. After all, I’ve got a serious line of stitches in my spine and an even greater amount of pain. So much pain that staff have been struggling to keep on top of my meds. For around five days I had something called a PCA, a button that I could press every five minutes that delivered 1ml of morphine around my body. That isn’t a lot on its own but when you can press it every five minutes – and believe me I did – it certainly adds up.

Although that’s not to say it’s helped make things plain sailing. The surgery itself took a long time – possibly five to six hours maybe – and on awakening I couldn’t move through agony. Surgeons – or anaesthetists or whoever – decided to put fentanyl through the PCA rather than morphine after the operation which works a treat for most people. But I’m a self-confessed morphine man and I just couldn’t budge through the pain. I’ve never experienced anything like it.

I was taken to the recovery centre and then onto a specialist ward but the pain never subsided. I can’t remember an awful lot from that first night apart from clenching onto the hand of the most incredible nurse and trying to take deep breathes. It was like I was pregnant and she was the father, telling me to breathe and copying me as I did so! About the only thing she didn’t do was shout ‘Push!’

I’d love to name the nurse in question but I think that would be wrong. All I’ll say is I hope she sees this blog one day and realises that she will always have a special place in my heart for the care she provided me with that night.

The morning after wasn’t too pretty either. And I don’t want to sit and write about what happened as let’s just say it could have been handled better! But basically I was still in agony.

However, when the PCA was eventually converted to morphine that all changed and over the next few days I made real progress with my legs, both strengthening them and having more control over them literally every time I moved. But, of course, I was still mostly bed bound. And that was for about 23 hours of the day, on a good day! Yesterday – a bad one unfortunately – brought back more pain and discomfort. But today was a new day, and boy was it a good one.

Thanks to the amazing efforts of my mum and the ward nurses, my room was kitted out with balloons, banners and this little message.

Thanks to my mum and the ward nurses there were balloons, banners and this little message.

The incredible nurses here at Coventry must have taken pity on me yesterday as I was moved into a lovely little side room last night. And with today being mine and Gemma’s anniversary I just knew we had to make the most of it. My mum, bless her, snuck onto the ward early and posted up some balloons and banners, before Gemma came in with presents and a wonderful picnic-type lunch.

To make matters even better, the brilliant physios decided that today would be the day that I took my first steps on the road to recovery. I had woken up in discomfort but I was determined to make today of all days the time to walk again, so I edged my bum to the side of the bed and pushed myself onto a Zimmer frame-type machine that supported my forearm and hands. And then I tried to walk.

Gemma was behind me at the time, so I focused on the window in front of me and my legs beneath me. It wasn’t perfect. Each leg would jerk out and to the side, and my left knee buckled inwards as it struggled to find the space between being extended and hyper-extended that it needs to walk normally. But regardless, I found myself moving forwards and I smiled through the pain that I felt soaring down my spine.

It was an exhilarating feeling, but there was more to come.

As we reached the window, I turned around and saw Gemma’s face. It was beaming with pride. There she was, seeing me walk for the first time after spinal surgery. Not doing it perfectly, not even independently thanks to the physios helping me along. But that smile. And how it made me feel. Now that’s pure happiness. Seeing the person you love in life and knowing that they may never have been prouder of you.

A lovely spread: Eating while sitting in a chair is a big deal right now. Eating the food that was on offer today was a bigger deal!

A lovely spread: Eating while sitting in a chair is a big deal right now – but eating what was on offer today was even bigger! YUM!

After the walk, they sat me down in a chair and we ate the picnic lunch that Gemma had provided. It was just an amazing moment – yet there we were, just two people sitting in a hospital side room eating some chicken nuggets and some posh M&S grub (and some homemade Jaffa Cakes that were out of this world by the way!).

After a good 90 minutes in the chair – my longest time by far – I got back into bed for a couple of hours before even sitting in a wheelchair and exploring the hospital. Gemma drove and we just rode around the place, enjoying the sun, the WH Smith and Costa, but most of all just enjoying trying to be kinda normal. I guess that’s what a lot of today was about. Getting to experience a tiny chink of normality in what is otherwise a pretty crazy time right now.

Whatever it was, I’m holding onto that feeling I experienced. I remember a few years going on holiday and finding the most spectacular view of the place we were visiting. I just sat there for a while and tried to take a mental snapshot of the moment, knowing I would soon be carrying on with life as normal back home.

The reason? I thought those were the moments we lived for. When you save up all that cash and go away somewhere fancy. I thought that view gave me the feeling I experienced today. But it didn’t even come close. Cause it’s not about the place – or even the occasion – that makes something special. It’s the smiles, the little moments – and the people you spend them with.

I started today in pain, not even knowing if I’d make it out of bed. I’m leaving it having accomplished more than I ever imagined with the person I love. That’s happiness, and that’s why I’ll be falling asleep with a big fat smile on my face.

Whatever your circumstances, please remember one thing: tomorrow is a new day. Who knows what it might bring?


Matt Bates

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